Fear of Dogs – Breed or Behaviour?

There are people who are afraid of dogs. When they see dogs, some scream in fear, some shiver and get tense, and in the worst case, some cry out of fear. However, have we thought about what is it in them (dogs) that really scares us? Do we really understand them? I would like to start off with a quote “Fear kicks in, in the absence of knowledge.”

There are stories where breeds like Pitbulls, Rottweilers and German Shepherds gave nasty bites to people. These stories have made the breeds seem even scarier. I would like to ask everyone who recognize dogs as who they are based on their breeds – “how much do you understand about respective dog breeds?” Much blame has been put on different dog breeds.

picture taken from : Facebook “I love Pit Bulls”

This article is not about who is in the wrong but rather, to bring awareness to people. The breed does not determine if the dog is loving or scary. It is the (bad) behaviour of the dog that defines what’s scary. You can have a Chihuahua or a Maltese that has serious aggression issues, e.g. lunging a bite on you, drawing blood from you. Of course, if this behavioural problem comes from a large dog like a Doberman, your injury may be worse.  But the breed is never the factor to define a dog – the owner and the dog’s behaviour is.

Many of us have watched television programmes where dog behaviourists rehabilitate dogs and train owners how to place their dog(s) back on track. This is all about education. Without knowledge, we are unsure and we can even be afraid of our own dogs, much less strangers.

picture taken from: google

That said, for those of us who are afraid of dogs, I would suggest that you think about this question –  are you afraid of dogs (even when a dog seems friendly and is wagging its tail excitedly) or are you afraid of what they are capable of (a bite)?

Dogs can feel what we are feeling. If you meet a very confident, calm and stable dog, you are generally safe. If you meet a dog that is unstable and you react fearfully to the dog, you may trigger them to react to your fear. It can be a bark, a growl, a chase or in the worst case, a bite.


Here is some tips for our lovely friends who fear dogs and wish to interact with them or avoid getting bitten:


– Do not give direct eye contact to a dog new to you

– Do not touch a dog immediately. If you are visiting a house, allow the dog to sniff you and walk away from you first. You can then invite the dog by squatting or kneeling down after both the humans and dogs are settled down.

– Give affection to a dog that is new to you by giving a gentle rub under the chin – that is respect.

– If a dog jumps on you, just turn your back and remain calm.

– Ignore the dog if you feel uncomfortable with his/her energy (too excited, charging towards you, etc)

Stay calm at all times

*Avoiding (If you happen to pass by a stray that is too friendly or barking at you and you want nothing to do with it):

– Do not give eye contact

– Do not scream. Walk as per normal

– If the dog charges towards you, turn your back and walk away

– Ignore the dog

Stay calm at all times


Understanding how to interact with a dog is important. We can blame a dog for biting us for all we want. But we have to reflect on this – humans rationalize, but dogs can’t. Dogs react to different energies, body languages and situations. Before blaming a dog, shall we take a step ahead to understand if we are doing it right as a (supposingly) smarter species that is capable of rationalizing? If we show respect to a dog, the dog will not want to hurt you. But if we cross our boundaries and hit their limits, they will then give warnings through verbalization or body language. And if we do not heed their message, we may get bitten.

picture taken from: google

Breeds only tell you something general about them – how do we expect to match the dog and our family? How will the dog look like? But it can never tell you who the dog really is. It is the behaviour and character that determines who the dog is really is.

Thank you for your time in reading this article, I hope that you will find this useful. Friends that are fearful of dogs – it is not a fault, there is totally nothing wrong with your fear of dogs.  It is a choice if you would like to overcome it and if you do like to overcome your fear of dogs, please seek assistance from a professional. Have a great day.

Jeremy Lim

Associate Canine Behaviourist